Mama called me early the next morning, and I wasted no time climbing out of bed and getting into my church clothes. The house was cold, as always, except for the kitchen. Coffee brewing and the bacon frying reminded me of being at my grandpa and grandma’s on Christmas morning. The Christmases I spent at my grandpa and grandma’s had been my happiest.
Filled with memories of my grandpa and grandma, and memories of my daddy, it was hard not to be sad. Most of the time I didn’t let myself think about those things. But sometimes I couldn’t help it, no matter how hard I tried to remember and not be sad. That Christmas morning standing and warming myself by the old stove, wearing my new coat and watching Mama turn the bacon, was one of those times. My mama cried too.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” I asked knowing the answer. Like me she hurt for my daddy and the way things used to be.
She said, “Nothing,” and “I’ll be alright in a little while.” I didn’t ask again. Sometimes Mama talked about my daddy and her feelings, and sometimes she didn’t. She wiped her eyes and turned her attention to the bacon and the eggs.
“Sunny side up, with the yellow runny,” she said, trying to smile. “Just the way you like.”
Sunny side up, with the yellow runny was how my daddy liked his eggs too. Funny what you remember as a kid and what you forget. How he liked his eggs and what my daddy smelled like are the things I remembered best about him.
I had just turned nine when he got killed. The next year my grandma died right before my birthday. All that seemed long ago and far away as I stood in the old kitchen, waiting to get warm. I was twelve now, and Larkin was going on three. Mama had been married and divorced, and we were living in a broken-down house in some town called Munro, trying to get back on our feet.
I was about to put another piece of wood in the stove when Mama told me to let the fire burn itself out and finish my breakfast. I did and she got herself and Larkin ready for church. Soon we were too busy heading out the door for me to feel sad. I wore my new coat, and Larkin wore his Santa Claus toboggan. Mama was in her red dress and black sweater.
“Don’t we look pretty for Jesus’ birthday,” she said, the three of us pausing to look back at ourselves from the mirror behind the old sofa.
Pushing open the door on my way out of the house I was greeted by Badge, tail wagging and a new shiny red and white bicycle. When I glanced back at her, my mama’s smile told me the bicycle was mine.
“I guess there’s a Santa Claus after all,” Mama said as she stood watching me, remembering my every move so she could tell me about it again and again over the years when we would share our memories of those times together.
“Can I ride it just one time?” I asked climbing on my new bicycle.
“We’re already late and we’re going to miss the van if we don’t hurry. You can ride all afternoon when we get home from church,” Mama said as she and Larkin headed down the porch steps. Still overjoyed I climbed off my new bicycle–my only bicycle ever. Following behind Mama, I fished my gloves out of my coat pockets and put them on. They were warm.
Standing in front of the church that morning, which was extra full, with my mind busy thinking about my bicycle I could hardly keep my mind on the Christmas service. I almost forgot my lines. I was in the Christmas play. I was the angel who said, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
On the way home from church the old man driving the church van asked me what Santa Claus had brought me for Christmas and I told him all about my bicycle. Deep down I knew Mama was Santa Claus and she had something to do with me getting a bicycle. Badge would have never let Santa Claus or anybody else on our porch. But I played along.
By nightfall tired from riding up and down the driveway and around the house, mama helped me get my bicycle up the porch steps. I had ridden all afternoon stopping only once to eat and to watch the baby while Mama took a nap.
In the house I pulled the door closed behind me, shutting out the cold. My bicycle would be safe on the porch. Badge was in his box. He spent most of the day in it after following after me up and down the road a few times.
I was getting ready for bed when my mama called me and had me sit down on our tired looking couch beside of her rocker. “Sam, you’re so very special,” she said, holding her present from me. “I remember the night you were born and us bringing you home from the hospital. Your daddy and I decided you were the best Christmas present anyone could hope for. Sam, your daddy loved you more than anything,” she said before growing quiet.
“I know, Mama,” I sighed.
I can still remember her peeling back the paper and opening her present from me, a little porcelain jewelry box I got for her to keep her earrings and necklace in. She smiled before she started crying. “It’s beautiful,” she said asking me where I’d found it, telling me it was too nice and adding I had no business getting her a present because Christmas was for children.
I hugged her neck and listened, not knowing what to say when she cried.
Sitting beside of her, I noticed her earrings were missing and so was her necklace – gone. I almost asked her where they were but she wouldn’t tell me the truth. She would say she had lost them, or they were put up in the closet or something else to keep me from feeling sad.
“Go on to bed,” she said drying her eyes. “That way you will be plenty rested to ride your new bicycle tomorrow.”
Years later, Mama told me it was Sarah Ann who bought me the bicycle. Sarah Ann and her husband didn’t have any children.
Merry Christmas and I hope you will want to read more about Sam and Badge. My personal earnings for Badge this December will be donated to various local, national, and international Christmas charities in hope that no child goes without Christmas.
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